Monday, December 2, 2013

the incomparable Marcella

Forty years ago last month, November, 1973, "The Classic Italian Cook Book", by Marcella Hazan, was published - a book described by Saveur Magazine as simply "the best cook book ever." Published by Harper's Magazine Press, the genius of Marcella was introduced to the world, and the world of cooking was never the same. This wonderful picture of Marcella, who died in September at the age of 89, appeared on the jacket of the original publication.

This is a day I will never forget, because I was the editor and publisher of "The Classic Italian Cook Book", and was able to deliver to Victor and Marcella the first printed copies of their book that November day. In a subsequent blog here, I'll tell the wonderful story of our meeting and joining forces to make "Classic" happen.

In a wonderful tribute to Marcella, Mark Bittman wrote in the New York Times: "What Alice Waters did for restaurants, Marcella did for home cooks, demonstrating that the simple treatment of decent ingredients leads to wonderful dishes". Mark also compared her to her great friend, Julia Child, and said: "By the time I was developing a career in food writing -- say 1983 --  "Marcella" was as meaningful as "Julia" was a decade earlier. To me, Hazan was the more important author; it was cooking from her book that taught me to interpret Child's work in a way that felt contemporary."

The book achieved instant recognition and acclaim -- a testament to the brilliance of the book: Craig Claiborne, James Beard, Roy Andreis de Groot, Mimi Sheraton, Ms. Magazine, all heaped praise. It quickly achieved acclaim not only as the best guide to Italian cooking ever written in the U.S. but as, simply, one of the best cook books ever.

Cooks all over the country started to exchange stories about and share their experiences in the kitchen with Marcella's recipes. "Pork loin braised in milk" became a standard in the culinary conversations.

For the original publication, Marcella wrote: "Behind the delicacy and variety of Italian dishes is a remarkable simple and direct approach to food." She went on: "I have tried to show how this approach creates the greater pleasures found in the Italian art of eating. I hope everyone who reads this book will find not just a source of new recipes, but also greater beauty and happiness in their life at the table."

Millions did.

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